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I'm working at a special biology project for my art degree. Of course, as an artist I am lacking when it comes to chemistry.

I want the organic compounds that make their skeletons or exoskeletons different than what we have on earth. I made some research but I can not find how I could combine metals like copper or other minerals to calcium in a way it creates a skeletal structure.

I want to know how copper or other metals can be integrated into an organic compound that results in a shell like structure. Could you provide me with other ways calcium (or similar minerals) have reactions with carbon creating bone like structures?

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  • $\begingroup$ Please clarify your specific problem or provide additional details to highlight exactly what you need. As it's currently written, it's hard to tell exactly what you're asking. $\endgroup$
    – Community Bot
    Apr 6, 2023 at 15:25
  • $\begingroup$ First you ask about copper with calcium, then about carbon with calcium. What is your problem, and since there are already questions about alternative skeletal compositions, what haven't you found there? $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Apr 6, 2023 at 15:27
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    $\begingroup$ The shells of molluscs and the bones of vertebrates are composite materials, consisting of a hard inorganic component and a soft organic component. The hard components of shells of shellfish and of the vertebrate bones are not organic substances; they are aragonite in the case of molluscs, and hydroxyapatite in the case of vertebrates. You probably wanted to say biogenic instead of organic. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Apr 6, 2023 at 16:00

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Have you ever heard about black smokers? They are hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor, hosting a very peculiar biodiversity.

Here, we can find the copper-shelled scaly-foot snail as suggested by Pelinore, so it is a good starting point to imagine a lifeform with a copper skeleton.

The rationale we are using calcium to build bony structure is that it can be assembled with oxygen to form hydroxyapatite, a high-resistance crystal which, one stockpiled in an organic matrix made of regular proteins, grants exceptional solidity. Note that the calcium itself is not bound to the organic molecules, see detailed paper on how it looks here.

Calcium is a very good material because of its relative abundancy (unlike titane or tungsten), ease to assemble/disassemble in crystal (unlike copper) and low interference with other organic processes (unlike lead or cadmium). But let's consider your creature is using copper.

Hydrothermal vents likely exists on other bodies in the solar system and beyond, such as Enceladus or Europa. Here, without interference from a sunlight-powered ecosystem and provided that the vents last long enough for evolution to work, we can imagine exotic creatures using copper released from the planet's core for their metabolism.

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You may be interested to learn that blue-purple copper-based hemoglobin exist in a variety of animals on Earth and could be the predominant color of your creature.

As for the bones, metallic copper is not really hard and instead its oxydes could be used. Copper oxyde(I) is red while copper oxyde(II) is dark-blueish, pick as you like.

Finally, copper is a good electron carrier and one can imagine that a copper-based creature would have electrical properties, essential for sensing in an otherwise obscure environment.

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"I want to know how copper or other metals can be integrated // in a shell"

You're asking about something that exists in the real world.

Just ask a marine biologist about snails around sea vents.

It is also worth noting that calcium is a metal anyway so even if the snail wasn't a thing it would hardly be a stretch for anyone to imagine that an organism could use a metal other than calcium if available in adequate quantities in its environment.

Also worth noting that skeletons and shells in most animals are not "organic" .. they are most often inorganic materials extracted from the environment in the food eaten and then used by the the body to build these structures .. there are organic structures in and around bones but the bone itself (what's left after everything has decomposed) is not organic.

Did you think of doing any kind of search before asking?

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    $\begingroup$ "Skeletons and shells in most animals are [...] most often inorganic materials extracted from the environment": No they are not. They are synthesized by the animal. For example, the hard component of human bones is hydroxyapatite, which is very rarely found in the environment where humans live. Most of the calcium is taken from the environment as calcium carbonate. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Apr 6, 2023 at 20:10
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP No, they are not .. they are inorganic materials extracted from the environment and laid down to form structures by organic processes .. "Most of the calcium is taken from the environment as calcium carbonate" yes, and and "materials that are considered 'inorganic' by most authorities include: metal carbonates". $\endgroup$
    – Pelinore
    Apr 6, 2023 at 20:12
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP The inorganic component is primarily crystalline hydroxyapatite .. that's the inorganic 36% left after the water and all the organic structures have gone and that's the bit that most people think of when they think of bones. $\endgroup$
    – Pelinore
    Apr 6, 2023 at 20:25
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    $\begingroup$ Yes, it is inorganic. But it basically does not exist in the environment. If humans had to extract their hydroxyapatite from the environment, we would have to wait a very very long time to build our bones. But fortunately calcium carbonate is aplenty in the environment. So we take the calcium carbonate, and combine it with the phosphates which we take from food, to manufacture the apatite we need. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Apr 6, 2023 at 20:29
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    $\begingroup$ My beef, which I thought I had made clear in the first comment, is with the fundamentally incorrect affirmation that skeletons are made from materials extracted from the environment. They are not. They are made from materials synthesized by the animal using materials extracted from the environment. Just like about everything else in the body of an animal or a plant. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Apr 6, 2023 at 20:34
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If this is an intelligent species, than you may expand natural evolution to include medical augmentation. In that case, they could have devised a procedure allowing nano-robotic 'lacing' of natural bones with artificial reinforcement materials (like titanium). Titanium is already used in dental implants and nano-robotic medicine is being developed for targeted drug delivery. Assuming the two could be combined for the targeted delivery of titanium reinforcement of bones, you would have a species with (at least partially) metal bones.

If this is not an intelligent species, than they could have been altered in a similar manner by a more intelligent species.

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